Opinion: Revisiting the gold standard for cinematic sequels
My obsession with this film will never be ogre.
If you were to define Generation Z with one film, what film would that be? High School Musical (2006)? Maybe. The Incredibles (2004)? Probably. Yet, I'm thinking of something else. Something with layers.
One of the defining features of my childhood was the ownership and repetitive viewings of the sequels to movies made in the very late ‘90s or early 2000s. Some of my favorite movies growing up were Toy Story 2 (1999), Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005), Spiderman 2 (2004), Spy Kids 2 (2002) The Santa Clause 2 (2002)...I could go on. The early 2000s were a golden age for cinematic sequels. However, there is one sequel in particular that is in a league entirely of its own, for it might be the closest thing we have to cinematic perfection. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about Shrek 2.
Shrek 2 (2004) is the definition of the perfect sequel. It takes what worked from the first film and expands upon it, creating a richer world and even stronger character development. I decided to rewatch it recently after organizing my family’s DVD collection, and a smile did not leave my face the entire time. Two hundred years from now, historians will be able to watch this film and have a complete and concise understanding of all western pop culture of the 20th century.
The Shrek franchise is, at its core, a rejection and satire of the monopolizing mega-corporation that is Disney, and Shrek 2 is particularly clever and funny in this approach - the filmmakers continually come back to this central idea in subtle (and, at times, not-so-subtle) ways. They take over-the-top cheesy Disney ~magic~ and knock it down to reality: when Shrek and Fiona are beachside for their honeymoon, a wave washes up and leaves an all-too-familiar looking mermaid on top of Shrek. Fiona then picks her up by the tail and throws her back into the water where sharks eat her; the Fairy Godmother comes down in a bubble and leaves her business card (not before making all the furniture sing, reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast); the ugly stepsister is a drag queen bartender; the list goes on and on. It still gives us the fairy-tale plot and ending we all crave, but is self-aware, and pokes fun at the ridiculousness of Disney magic, and puts it into a more realistic lens, ultimately making it far more relatable and funny for the audience.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this film is its score - which was, again, an intentional parody of Disney, by using pop music. This again, grounds Shrek 2 (somewhat) in our world. When Shrek, Fiona and Donkey arrive in the Kingdom of Far, Far Away, the grand and glorious sound of trumpets announcing their arrival meld smoothly into the iconic beginning of Lipps Inc’s 1979 hit “Funkytown." Later, when Shrek is trying to get into the castle to save Fiona using a giant gingerbread man, the Fairy Godmother’s rendition of “Holding Out For a Hero” is mashed up with the Hero theme from the first film (the original score piece that plays when Shrek is saving Fiona from the dragon). This creates one of the most epic final scenes in any film ever. It creates an incredibly engaging experience for the watcher, because it’s so over-the-top in its humor and its genuine suspense. The Fairy Godmother is singing an intensely fast version of a song from the Footloose soundtrack while Human Shrek is riding a gigantic gingerbread man into the castle, yet mashing up the pop song with the original score that fans of the first movie will recognize, makes the scene actually super exciting.
Ultimately, it’s the insane over-the-top-ness that makes this movie so damn good. It’s funny in its parody of Disney and Hollywood, and grounds those stories in reality; yet the epic-ness of the journey, and the way it builds upon the first film, makes it genuinely very engaging. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… like an onion, Shrek 2 certainly has layers.